We’re On Our Way!
As part of this historical series, we continue our walk down memory lane. The year is 1985 and it proved to be a pivotal year in the restoration of the Page-Walker Hotel.
June 13, 1985 - a day to celebrate! The Cary Town Council purchased the Walker Hotel and surrounding three acres for $235,000. Two and a half months later, the building and one-and-a-half acres were leased to Preservation NC with the understanding that the hotel would be restored as a community arts and history center. Preservation NC would assign the lease to the Friends as soon as not-profit status and articles of incorporation were received. As the hotel effort was a huge undertaking that required substantial funding and volunteer involvement, we decided to form an independent, non-profit organization rather than be under the umbrella of the Cary Historical Society. The Friends also voted to change the name of the organization from Friends of the Walker Hotel, to Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel
. No existing structure in the community bore the name Page
It was fitting that the founder of our town and builder of the hotel, Allison Francis "Frank" Page, be recognized. Myrick Howard, director of Preservation NC, also joked that in his experience historic structures with hyphenated names tended to receive more funding. We were certainly in need of that support!
The summer of ’85 was busy! In addition to creating by-laws, electing officers and initiating the incorporation process, a tarp was installed over the roof to stabilize the structure. No more bucket brigades! The Friends interviewed several architects and in July, Norma Burns of Burnstudio was hired. With the Friends’ input, Ms. Burns began the design phase and developed a logo for the project using the signature chimney and windows featured on each end of the hotel (this logo appears on the banner of this Web site).
In 1985, Cary had few venues for the arts and history. The Friends recognized that this deficiency, plus a restoration project that would address some of these program and space needs, could also serve to develop a sense of community in a town that was experiencing rapid population growth, and where most newcomers knew little about Cary’s past. An initial step was to hire Danielle Withrow to conduct a workshop to solicit public input concerning the types of programming that would be appropriate for an arts and history center. This workshop generated excellent ideas that were subsequently used in our grant applications. It also resulted in an increase in committed volunteers.
One of our biggest challenges in 1985 continued to be raising public awareness of, and subsequent support for, the project. At June’s end, the Friends had raised only $2000 and we were concerned that few citizens were aware of the Page-Walker effort. During the next six months, we initiated many “projects” to bring the endeavor into the public eye. “Back on Track” t-shirts and memberships were sold at Lazy Daze. We rode in a vintage car in the Cary Band Day parade, the Cary News featured our progress continually, and many grants were written. A video was produced that we presented to various organizations to educate the public. In November 1985, we hosted a “Back on Track” Reception for the unveiling of the official site sign. One hundred guests gathered to kick off the official restoration effort and, thanks to private and state grants, we received $33,000 on that occasion. We were off and running.
The dedication and passion of the board were critical to the development of both an understanding of the project’s goals and a strategic plan for implementation. Board meetings were held every two weeks into the wee hours of the night. The effort captured everyone’s imagination, and we felt a great responsibility to protect our heritage while providing a functional building for the future. We discovered during the design phase that our initial estimate for restoration ($250,000) would need to be increased. Because the building would be used by the public and was a three-story structure, it needed to have an elevator, fire stairs and handicapped-accessible restrooms. Rather than use the historic space for these requirements, the Friends elected to attach a compatible addition with offices, a catering kitchen and, if possible, a basement. The restoration fundraising goal became $350,000, which we communicated through our first issue of The Innkeeper, December 1985.
Fast-forward 21 years to July 21, 2006. The place is the lawn/garden area in back of the Page-Walker. It’s a comfortable summer evening and a popular performing group is entertaining several hundred Caryites with the big band sounds of the 1930s and 1940s. The music of Benny Goodman, Count Basie and the Dorsey brothers is working its magic. As envisioned by the Friends 21 years ago, this place in old Cary is drawing the people of the town together as a community.